Let me start by saying that I am not calling PR students or interns stupid, but rather pointing out that PR is one of those careers that you can’t fully grasp from school. So what’s the most important thing to know about joining the PR profession?
If you’re not a caffeine addict already, you better be ready to become one, as PR ranked as the fourth most coffee reliant profession.
But really, other than a need for coffee, what does it mean to be a PR pro?
According to Wikipedia (yes, I chose Wikipedia as a point of reference because most college students are probably checking this site to figure out what PR is) “public relations (PR) is the practice of managing the spread of information between an individual or an organization and the public.” But what does that actually mean?
In college, I remember telling my family and friends that I wanted to go into PR, and when they would ask me what PR was I would say something along the lines of, “It’s a mixture of marketing and journalism. I’ll help promote companies without having to pay for something.” What that actually meant to me at the time I had no fucking clue, but it’s what I went with when explaining it to others and during my own interviews at different PR firms. Today, I have a completely different understanding of what PR is and the importance it has within a company.
After working with our BPR intern program for over a year now, I’ve interviewed individuals who have had previous experiences and those who have not. The one thing I always ask no matter their experience level when interviewing potential interns is, “What do you think PR is?” Once they share their own BS answer of what they think PR is I always respond with, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you don’t and won’t know PR until you’re fully in it.”
At the beginning of each BPR internship we ask our interns to write down what they think PR is and what they thinkthey’re getting into. We’ve heard responses – some coming from Wikipedia – like:
The process of communicating a company/brand/non-profit’s message in an effective way to achieve the ultimate goal of that organization.
Managing information between an organization and its audience, often dealing heavily with the media, promoting positive stories as well as controlling negative ones.
Helping companies announce new products, information, and present themselves to other companies and the general public.
I have to admit, these responses are correct to a degree, but they are missing many pieces of the PR puzzle. Media relations is a very important aspect of PR, but there is also analyst relations, awards, conference appearances and speaking opportunities, and company and business strategies, just to name a couple. This is our typical list of what we tell our interns they will have the opportunity to work with at BPR, but until they actually start working on it it’s hard to understand the steps, strategy and importance of each task we provide for our clients.
I’ve been with Barokas for over two years and there’s always something new to learn about how to truly succeed in PR. College will be able to teach you key skills to help you in your career, but internships will teach you what it actually means to be a PR pro.
If you’re really interested in going into PR I highly recommend beginning your internship search as early as possible, and if you don’t have time for an internship this quarter/semester, start setting up informational interviews to learn from the professionals you aspire to be.
The more you proactively reach out to PR pros to learn, whether through internships or informational interviews, the better you’ll be able to answer the question “What is PR?” Most importantly you’ll have a better understanding of what is actually involved in working in PR.
As BuzzFeed said it best: PR pros expect they’ll enjoy their job, but the reality is PR pros “can’t imagine doing anything else. At the end of the day, getting that piece in Wall Street Journal makes it all worth it.”
Happy birthday BPR! I’ll never forget my six years on the corner of First and Cherry.
It started in late August 2001, just a few weeks before all of our lives were changed by 9/11. Looking back, it was a time of big change for me personally as well.
I was 26 and had just gotten laid off from a PR firm on the other side of pioneer square. The ax had fallen a few days before I had left for my honeymoon. I had never been canned before, so I remember carrying that with me during what was supposed to be a fun time.
I also remember how happy I was to come home to a voicemail from Snacky, a former client of mine who was now working for BPR – inviting me to come in. It was here that my BPR experience began.
I showed up in typical “day one” attire, khaki pants and a dress shirt – ironed crisp. It was about as far from the standard BPR dress code of black tee-shirt and jeans as you could get.
I had never interviewed or anything, so I just showed up and met Snacky – who put me right to work in one of the “fishbowl” offices (where people could watch you work through the glass).
I recall working email and phones, coordinating a New York City press tour that would have put my client in the middle of the 9/11 tragedy – had they not asked us later to cancel the meetings for some reason I can’t remember.
I met the others in the office when they would walk past the fishbowl and wonder who the hell I was and what I was doing there.
I remember meeting Howie for the first time. He thought my name was “Pete” – but I didn’t bother to correct him. I just went along with it for the next several weeks. I figured he could call me whatever he wanted. I just wanted to work for BPR.
And work I did. In those early days there were only a few of us, so we all carried a lot of responsibility. We didn’t really have titles, like “AC” (account coordinator) or “AE” (account executive) – as most other firms were structured. We all engaged with clients, offered thoughts and insights, and were expected to deliver results.
I was psyched. I was no longer going to be the “copy boy” or the “call monkey” stashed in the back room. I was going to be interfacing with the client – and they would actually know who I am and that I work on their account.
I was learning the trade in the fast lane – and from some of the best people in the business. Looking back, being surrounded by Howie, Andrew, Karli, Frances and Snacky in those early years was the best thing that could have happened to me and my career. I wouldn’t be the PR person I am today without them.
Howie was a particularly strong influence in my life. Not only did I begin to question retail prices and to wear black tee-shirts just about every day (something we’ve both since abandoned) – but he also showed me how to stand out from the crowd, and to think more creatively than the other PR guys in town. I also learned to be “the squeaky wheel,” to know my clients’ business better than they do, and to never – no matter what – never let em’ see you sweat. But most importantly, he taught me to trust my instincts, to be decisive, and to become a much more confident person.
Today I live in Vermont, operating a small PR dojo of my own – but there’s not a day that goes by that I’m not falling back on my BPR experience.
All of you who work there today, I want you to know how lucky you are. Not only do you have the opportunity to help shape some of the most innovative companies in the Northwest and be a critical part of their success – but you, personally, have every chance to show your stuff and to be a star. You have the opportunity to meet some amazing people – and to work along-side the best in the business. I’m jealous.
Thank you BPR for being a big part of my life. I wish you 15 more years of success and prosperity. Keep on rocking!
Across more than six years, I was a part of the scary-smart and talented team at BPR. Because of this, you can trust me when I tell you that working at BPR is more than a job. For better or worse, it is a way of life. The early years I spent at BPR exposed me to opportunities I would have never had the chance to experience fresh out of college; and in my opinion, I got to learn from the best of the best. Green as I was at 23, I was planning multi-city press tours, advising CEOs on crisis communications, collaborating with reporters at publications like Forbes and the New York Times and learning the ropes of an industry (technology) I never thought I’d touch.
The BPR way of life is sometimes thankless, sometimes gratifying, always challenging and never boring. It is not for people who like to count on “quitting time” at 5:30 every day. It is not for the faint of heart. It is not for those who take constructive feedback personally. It is not for people who are offended by swear words and brusque honesty. But for some – those of you who won’t back down, aim for perfection and truly thrive on a challenge (many say they do but don’t) – it will grab hold and make you never want to leave.
When I first came across BPR, they didn’t want to hire me. For a while, Howie wouldn’t even meet me. I was young, inexperienced and other than a journalism degree and some writing chops, had very little to offer in the way of PR. I, like many before and after me, was desperate for that job. The lure of a “no BS” workplace that encouraged autonomy, had no titles, loved dogs and played DMB was irresistible. And I was hungry. I wasn’t taking no for an answer, and pressed so hard for the job that I bordered on annoying.
Ultimately, I think I got the interview so Howie could get me off his back. I don’t know if I was ever officially hired. The team agreed to let me do some work, gave me a desk and a lousy PC, and started paying me. But there was an unspoken understanding that I still only had one foot in the door. If I wanted to stay, I had to earn it. Technology PR is hard, plain and simple, and there were moments during those first six or so months that I questioned if it would pan out.
My first press tour was a schedule of eight or more ‘TBD’ meetings. I sent my client off to New York with not one meeting actually confirmed. The briefing materials I handed over on the day before departure were covered in TBD placeholders for days, times, locations and contacts they would possibly be meeting with along the way. At the time, I had no idea this was a problem. I thought I had done a great job securing ‘interest’ from high profile media in meeting with my client, and thought it was perfectly natural to expect the CEO to take everything across the finish line when he arrived on the east coast. It was his company after all, and I provided him with email addresses and some phone numbers. The backlash from this epic fail was painful, and almost cost me my job. Thankfully we didn’t lose the client. I fell on the sword, learned from my fuck up, eventually got really good at booking press tours and later had a lot of laughs over the infamous ‘TBD Tour’.
There are too many memories and lessons from my time at BPR to chronicle in a blog post. I had great clients (RealNetworks, WildTangent, Pokemon and Clearwell Systems to name a few) – and a couple scandalous ones (those will remain nameless). I learned the ins and outs of industries that continue to facilitate my career in PR (legal technology and gaming for example). I overcame my fear of public speaking and learned the art of always being one step ahead of the game. I took my first trips to NYC, D.C., Boston, London and other amazing cities. I built great friendships. I survived some awkward meetings and rescued my clients from many. I became a Mac. I rediscovered the importance of self-assuredness and spell check. I worked really hard and reaped the rewards.
Despite the fact that I don’t work at BPR any longer, I’m not sure that I ever actually resigned; much in the same way that I wasn’t ever formally hired. Even as my family life has pulled me in other directions, BPR and the relationships I formed here nearly 10 years ago are still meaningful. BPR – Howie, Karli and Frances specifically – make up a big part of the foundation of my history in PR. They and their team are a first-class group of people that I’d be lucky to work with again someday. Happy Anniversary you guys, and many wishes for even more success in the next 15.
This September marks the 15th anniversary of Barokas PR and my 14th year at the company. While September is typically a time of new beginnings with school starting, I find myself in more of a reflective mood given this milestone in the company’s history.
Not that I would have admitted it then, but when I first got into PR, I really didn’t have any idea of what to expect. I had community relations and marketing internships at KING 5 and The Ackerley Group (since acquired by Clear Channel), but the world of tech PR was an entirely new beast. I entered the tech scene at a time marked by tech incubators, the Pets.com sock puppet, and publications like Inter@ctive Week, The Industry Standard and Business 2.0 (how’s that for a walk down memory lane?). Many of my friends from college also pursued jobs in PR, but when the dot-com bust hit, they all ventured off down different career paths or went back to school to earn their MBAs.
Looking back, I can say that I’m glad (and lucky) to have stayed in PR. While PR often earns the distinction of “most stressful job,” the opportunities it has provided me are unmatched. In the last 14 years I have worked with some of today’s most notable business leaders, CEOs and venture capitalists including Marc Andreessen, Ben Horowitz, Eric Anderson and many, many others. In my early 20’s while other young professionals were stuck in their cubes and focused on climbing the corporate ladder, I was traveling across the country on press tours, advising clients on what and, most importantly, what not to say.
Because of my career, I’ve traveled to many of the places in the world that I always wanted to visit including the UK, Spain and Germany. And racking up all those frequent flier miles for work has allowed me to visit numerous countries including Australia, France, Fiji, Japan, New Zealand, and even Cuba (shhh!). When one of my clients sponsored a car in the Indy 500, I had the privilege of riding in a pace car at speeds I’ll likely never experience again. Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to work with NASA and host a media day with an astronaut. It was my dream to be an astronaut when I was younger and while I haven’t been to space (yet), it was an unforgettable experience. I am proud to call myself a geek and can talk shop about cloud computing, virtualization and a host of other technologies my friends and family will never understand.
Most importantly, I’ve learned a lot about myself over the last several years. It’s certainly not easy running a business and it’s hard to accept that you can’t always make everyone happy (although it’s in my nature to always try!). I’ve learned that the squeaky wheel gets the grease and that by simply putting yourself out there you can make things happen that you never thought possible. I’ve learned that relationships are what matter most – even more than skill and expertise (although you better be able to deliver or that relationship won’t open any more doors). I’ve also learned that there isn’t really such thing as work life balance in a 24×7 job like PR. The lines are always blurred, but there are ways to make sure you’re fulfilled by all parts of your life.
While I don’t know what the next 15 years have in store, I can guarantee that the world of PR will lead me to many more life changing experiences. So, happy birthday Barokas PR – just like a person you have grown, you’ve changed and you’ve changed me.
There was a day in the fall of 1998, while the world was completely entrenched watching the outcome of the Kenneth Starr inquiry into the Clinton affair,
when the idea of Barokas PR was hatched. And it was hatched on a whim. I was a 23 year old kid, fresh out of the University of Oregon beginning a still semi-professional career when my manager Howie Barokas decided enough was enough. We were working together at a large tech PR firm in Seattle. We were working hard for our clients, but the political headwinds of a big firm slowed us down, and frustrated both of us.
At that time, the tech world was on the brink of an epic explosion but no one knew it. And we can’t take any credit for having the foresight to see it coming. We were still searching with Alta Vista (because Google had just come out and no one thought about using anything besides Alta Vista) and we sent ICQs (the first instant message). I would loosely guess that only 20% of professionals at the time had a cell phone and those phones were heavy non-computing bricks that were only a slight step up from the still super popular pager. Microsoft was the tech giant. And Internet was largely dial up, unless you were really lucky and had an early DSL connection, or worked at one of the ten big companies in town who had a T1.
Every tech company that was VC funded at the time wanted a large PR agency to add to their resume because simply listing that big name PR firm made it appear like they were really in the game, although most were not. Times were good and on the verge of getting much better. So why did two people who hardly knew each other decide to split from that big firm and give something else a go? Because we didn’t know any better, and that turned out to be our greatest strength and differentiator. There are ten things I would list as not only lessons from the founding of Barokas PR, but lifelong lessons in how the world works, and how to carve your place in it. Let’s take a look.
1. Avoid group herd mentality. This is crucial in almost everything you do. If there’s a line, go somewhere else. If someone says something is the next big hot thing, run the other direction. Few people are successful copycats. A much larger number are true innovators. Warren Buffet made a fortune buying stocks when everyone was selling. “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful” is his famous line. Adhering to that made him the richest person in the world. Attaching your name to a big firm did nothing at the time to propel those companies forward. It only may have helped propel you forward in an already crowded landscape. But clients needed good old fashioned hard work from a passionate team. The larger agencies couldn’t bring that, and they didn’t. In 1998, we made a move on this theme although it wasn’t quite as calculated as it sounds now.
2. Nothing matters except results. This is a good #2, following on the heels of #1. Big agencies at the time were focused on having a team of interns assemble books and binders full of press coverage to justify the work they did. Nobody asked about sales, or the true measurable impact of their PR efforts. What matters is sales, all the time. And it’s never going to go out of style. Every member of every company should be focused on one thing, and that’s sales. If you’re not contributing to the bottom line, you should rethink what you are doing. Barokas PR’s first slogan, which we kicked around for a while was “PR minus BS.” A wise gentleman at one of the world’s largest tech companies told us to think twice about that because we didn’t have the history to back up such a bold claim at the time. So we changed it to “Results. Are you Ready”? It captured the essence at the time, and only later, after years of delivering results did it change to the current day “PR Minus the BS.”
3. Pick up the phone. In 1998 the Internet was on the outer edge of becoming the prevailing medium that it is today. In 1998 large agencies and other lazy folks billing themselves as PR professionals (who I guess are “PR mavericks” or “mavens” today) were sending loads of unpersonalized emails expecting big results to fall in their lap. But the only results that emails delivered were the ability to highlight their “top tier” outreach into the huge binders delivered to clients that were chock full of other indecipherable information, perfect for agencies to secure those large monthly retainers that ran rampant during this time. You have to be more aggressive than that. Yet no one wanted to be at the time, and unfortunately too many still do not today.
4. Be Small and Nimble. Agencies back in 1998, and many still to this day, are loaded with all levels of account managers and nobody is doing the actual work except for perhaps a handful of interns and the one or two superstars who will probably get poached away rather quickly. But when an internal meeting is called the big guns come in to boost those billable hours. That’s what they do. These people make their first “appearance” on the account since the account was first pitched to the client under the guise that every senior staff member would be involved in the day to day work on the account. That never happened, ever. Staying small and lean, with a hard working team of people who got along was what drove the BPR engine forward in its early days. Nothing was off the table from anyone if it helped advance our client’s interests, which again was sales, sales, sales. This focus on sales became even more important following some of the huge IPOs that began hitting in the late 1990’s. Anyone with a little revenue could get funded and start the move toward a mega million IPO.
5. Recognize your allies. In the early days of Barokas PR, a couple clients took the chance on a two person start up with no office space and barely any Internet access (hence prior importance of working the phone). One of these companies, believe it or not, was a very large global tech company that tasked our small growing agency with a handful of difficult objectives. What do you think we did? We busted our butt every waking moment to overdeliver for them, and that client became a lifelong professional and personal relationship as a result.
Many other companies took a chance on us back in those early days, and talking to them about working together was so different than it was with the larger agencies. There was a true feeling of passion in the air that can’t be described or faked. It was never an agency “pitch” as much as it was a strategic brainstorming as a group. We were like an army helping formulate orders with the general and no matter how outrageous or unattainable those orders seemed, we were hell-bent on getting them done. In the process of doing so, we made many allies in the tech world, and created a name and a brand that continued to draw the interest of more and more companies.
6. Work Harder than the Next Guy. #5 is a good segway into this one. If you aren’t willing to work hard and to hustle beyond belief to do good things for your client, you can bet that someone else will. Our commitment to the hustle is why we gained clients. When most agencies were trying to keep business by striving to “deliver” we sought to only “overdeliver.” No one was doing that then, and few are doing it now. Remember Samuel Goldwyn’s famous quote, “the harder I work, the luckier I get.”
7. Know what you are talking about. This one is huge and seems like a no brainer, but so few people actually take the time to invest in knowledge of the product they are pitching. Barokas PR arose from the seed of product knowledge, which lies partly in the fact that we were nerds, overly interested perhaps in these new technologies that were changing the world. If a marketer in any form isn’t truly passionate about the product or service they are pitching it will die a fast death with the media who actually are truly passionate about it. If you aren’t interested in being passionate about it, you should find a new line of work that you are passionate about. When building our initial team we were fortunate to find so many others that shared our curiosity for what the future held and who relished in the ability to affect it. That is what clients expect, and deserve
8. Never Ever Give Up. I recall an early BPR client who really wanted to be in the NY Times, and they had a brand new product that was kick ass and could definitely be a good fit for the NY Times tech section. The editor at the time was as tough as tough gets, with a reputation for being incredibly hard to pitch. But all that did at BPR was add fuel to the fire. It made us want it even more. The success that would be gained far outweighed the extra effort that would be required. And in this case it took a few months, but we were able to secure an interview and the resulting coverage. Always choose the hard path. There are fewer people on it.
9.“No Risk No Reward,” or better yet “No Balls No Babies.” There is no substitute for gut instinct, and the best part is that everyone has it. Sometimes you have to suck it up, get uncomfortable and ride it out. That’s how the world changes. That’s how Vanderbilt, Carnegie and Rockefeller used to roll. We used to say back in the early days that we should shoot for the stars, and if we get almost there it’s better than not having set our sights so high. Or as Michael Jordan once said “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” In the world of PR, there is no better mantra. Either you go for it, or you sit back on your laurels and watch the world unfold before you. Pick a side, take the chance and ride it out with hard work.
10. Even if You’re Small You Can Be Big. No one is going to call you out on being small if you play the role and play it well. If you know everything about a product, its industry and its competitiveness, and if you are empowered with the ability to reach senior executives and industry movers, then you are big, and you are bigger than the big guys who are not empowered. You’re only small if you think you’re small. You’re only big if you think you’re big. Move all in, all the time. Play to win.
And there’s a quick ten. There are many more. On that day when BPR was born, I sat across the desk from the president of a large PR agency and I was trying to quit and get out of the building as fast as possible (I may even have had a cab waiting). I was scared to death, not only that he was going to pummel me (because he was a big, strong guy and one blow with his bowling ball sized fist would have broken all my teeth) but because I had no idea what was going to happen next. And that is why we were able to pull it off.
The curiosity and the doubt. The unknown. The question mark. The possibility, and seemingly high likelihood, of failing miserably. The possibility of disappointing the clients who rolled the dice with us. The fact that we might not be able to do it. The possibility that we’d be unemployable after this, scarred from severe failure. Maybe we didn’t have the skills, the knowledge or the capabilities. This great unknown and “the scare” is how Barokas PR was born, and it is why it has grown today to be 15 years old. It is also how every major movement in the world begins and the reason why they thrive.
In the PR world it happens to be our job to talk to strangers. More than that, it is our job to turn strangers into friends, business partners, resources, mentors, colleagues, etc. Finding ways to strike up conversations with people, journalists in particular, we don’t know is what we do every day in hopes they will reciprocate and eventually ‘befriend’ us. If I don’t attempt contact with a stranger while on the job, I’m not doing my job.
So, you can just imagine how surprised I was when The Onion did a feature on the ‘stranger problem.’ Despite my job, they put it perfectly in perspective, albeit very sarcastically and not at all factual, but still spot on:
Citing how devastatingly uncomfortable it makes people feel, a new report released by the Stanford University Sociology Department revealed Wednesday that it’s never okay to just start talking to someone you don’t know.
The report, which analyzed numerous conversations that took place over a nine-month period from September of last year through May, states that approaching a complete and total stranger and saying “Beautiful day,” “That’s nice, where did you get that?” or “Hello” is, under no circumstance, acceptable.
In addition, just because you are sitting next to someone you don’t know on a bus or airplane, that doesn’t give you any right to talk to that person, even if he or she is reading a book you once read. The study goes on to state that talking to an unfamiliar person in a setting where the individual essentially can’t escape the conversation is “one of the cruelest things one human being can do to another human being.”
Many of us are in jobs much like mine, but the overwhelming majority of us clock out and check out, avoiding people we don’t know at every corner. The ‘stranger problem’ is a BIG problem – it’s a phobia that’s quickly becoming a societal issue. Our fear of making contact with a stranger is stifling our social networks, limiting opportunities, breaking down communication, isolating and dividing us. By engaging with strangers we grow our friend circles and business ties, learn how to find middle ground, appreciate experiences we haven’t experienced ourselves, empathize greater, and ultimately become more open minded.
So, what is my point with all this hippie, ‘one love’ banter? My point is to challenge you to talk to strangers; talk to as many as you can; on a daily basis. I bet you’ll be surprised the impact it will have on an astonishing number of aspects in your life. We all have something in common: a book we read, the town we are from, a cat/dog lover, similar fashion sense, favorite coffee shop, the list goes on and on. You will make new friends, open new doors, gain confidence, smile more, and the best part of all – you’ll likely make someone’s day, week, month, year or a lifetime. Trust your neighbor and reach out an open hand. But to be safe, let’s still stick to our Mom’s mantra and don’t take candy from a stranger.
Pro-tip: the forced interactions will feel very uncomfortable at first and many people will think you are crazy and may try to avoid you at all costs. It requires a conscious effort that will often put you in uncomfortable situations with awkward endings. But it becomes easy over time and the rewards far outweigh the discomfort you may endure. Let me help you get started – here are a few self-help articles to get you over the hump:
And hey, if it turns out I’m wrong, just stick to these words of wisdom: “Your comfort zone is there for a reason. It’s so you can stay comfortable. If someone breaches that by saying hello to you, that person is the asshole, not you. Remember that.”*
Good luck out there and let me know how it goes – awkward encounters and all
Demo Day is Boulder at its finest. The Boulder Theater is dressed for the occasion and so are the TechStars teams. In true Boulder style, the dress code is company T-Shirts and jeans.
We are ready.
We are ready to listen and to be inspired by ten companies who have spent the last three months preparing for this moment. Today is their day.
For those of you who are not familiar, TechStars is a mentorship-driven startup accelerator founded by David Cohen, Brad Feld, David Brown, and Jared Polis that holds thirteen-week programs for startups in Boulder Colorado, New York City, Boston, Seattle, San Antonio, Austin and London. If you are accepted into the thirteen-week program, TechStars provides each company with free office space and $18,000 in exchange for a 6% stake in the company. In addition, a syndicate of more than 75 top venture capitalists backs each company with a $100,000 convertible note which converts into equity when the company raises a Series A. The competition is tough. In fact, less than 1% of the companies that apply to TechStars are accepted. At the end of the thirteen-week program, TechStars hosts Demo Day, which can draw over 500 investors, entrepreneurs, and journalists. Demo Day is their unveiling, the day they present their company.
This year did not disappoint. The Boulder Theater was packed. In the audience were fellow Techstars, veteran Techstars, investors, journalists, and true fans of everything that this day is about. TechStars believes in people, in ideas and in the power of those people taking their ideas and building something that matters. It sounds corny, but we all want to believe that this still exists. We want to know that two guys in a garage can have an idea and it can become the next big thing. We want to believe that people will still cheer for each other, that when you work hard you can succeed, and, more importantly, that people want you to succeed. That is what Demo Day is about.
Ten CEOs presented their company as the closing act of their three-month journey. One announced a new CEO, another made history by becoming the first company in TechStars history to ever be acquired before completing the program. This was the highlight of the afternoon. The company, GoodApril, announced that on Tuesday they had been acquired by Inuit, making both personal and TechStars history. They were presented with the Techstars “yellow jersey” and rewarded, not just with the success of the acquisition, but also with endless applause by a crowd on their feet.
For me, the best part of this particular story was not that they had been acquired, but that they were almost not a part of the program. It turns out that they were originally rejected. The founders received the dreaded, “thank you but no thank you email.” The Managing Director then explained to the audience that he could not sleep after her sent them the email. He called the founders the next day and “took it back” as he welcomed them into the program. How is that for trusting your instincts? The next time you have a gut feeling about something or someone, this should remind us all, to listen.
I was fortunate this year to get to know the companies personally, meeting with each of them one-on-one as a PR mentor. I got to know some teams quite well, working on a press release, talking through upcoming events and discussing pitches to the media. With every step I was continually amazed by the commitment, excitement and passion they each have for what they are doing. At Demo Day I got to see how equally passionate they are for each other. The teams sit together toward the back of the Theater and the cheering is contagious. With every presentation came cheers, screams and yells of support.
You couldn’t help but be inspired.
Congratulations to all ten companies and thank you to TechStars for letting BPR be a part of the 2013 journey. We will be watching to see what is next for each of the 2013 Boulder teams.
On Sunday I had the honor of attending a viewing party for Secret Millionaire at BDA, a branded merchandise agency best known for inventing the modern-day bobble head (and a Barokas PR client). As one of this season’s secret millionaires, BDA CEO Jay Deutsch was selected by ABC to go undercover into a poverty-stricken neighborhood in Phoenix, Arizona. If you didn’t catch the show, the program leads up to a big reveal in which Jay must disclose his true identity and mission: making generous donations to the people and organizations that touched his heart throughout the journey.
One of the organizations profiled during the segment was Cup O’Karma, a community cafe in Mesa, AZ that provides housing, workplace development and job training for victims of domestic violence. The program is run by MonaLou Callery, an incredibly inspiring woman and domestic violence survivor. Throughout the segment, ABC profiled the far reaching impact of domestic violence – it was eye opening to learn that one in four women has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime. And unfortunately, it’s estimated that approximately 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault each year.
Cup O’Karma’s work was especially close to the heart of Jay and his BDA family, as their co-worker, Susan Brockert, became a victim of domestic violence on a company trip to Hawaii two years ago. In Jay’s own words in Entrepreneur Magazine, “No company or CEO can prepare for the kind of tragedy I found myself faced with…”
MonaLou’s escape from domestic violence and Susan’s tragic story illustrate how inspiration can come out of heartbreak. For the team at BDA, this means telling Susan’s story to help end the vicious cycle of domestic abuse. The BDA team turned its grief over Susan’s death into the driving force behind Susan’s Rock, a branch of the BDA Cares Foundation dedicated to the prevention of violence against women and children.
The Secret Millionaire segment also profiled a youth outreach program called Heart for the City, an organization focused on the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of children and poor families living in inner city communities. A comment made by one of the organization’s volunteers perfectly summed up the theme of the evening – “Don’t be a person of words, be a person of action.”
As the CEO of a successful 29-year old business, it wouldn’t be hard to guess that Jay is a millionaire. Thanks to ABC, it’s his kindness, generosity and courage to take action that are no longer a secret.
To learn more about domestic violence awareness and prevention, visit the BDA Cares Foundation at http://bdacares.org/.
My grandpa taught me the definition of bullshit at the ripe age of five. While back then the context involved a game of cards, I realized pretty early just how full of bullshit people can be. My family is full of BS. Friends, neighbors, (cough, cough) clients – love them all, but it’s true. You need to learn how to spot bullshit before you step in it.
My knack for hunting bullshit, and filtering it into something digestable, landed me a career in PR. How ironic, right? PR as an industry is full of bullshitters. I’ll skip the Barokas PR plug, as you know our ‘PR Minus the BS’ mantra. Businesses looking for PR need to be warned of just how much BS is out there and learn how to avoid the landmines accordingly.
Journalists are some of the world’s greatest bullshit hunters. In fact, I recently dined with some of the industry’s best: TechCrunch, while some of the gang was visiting Seattle for a recent Seattle Meetup. As usual, they had a lot to say about working with PR Pros. Here’s a glimpse at some of the bullshit PR tactics they try to avoid.
BS embargoes: Asking a reporter to agree with your embargoed news, which you list in full detail within the email pitch, is just asking for a broken embargo. There’s a big difference between “agreeing to an embargo,” and actually agreeing to an embargo before a PR fool discloses the news. And, what’s up with ridiculously early embargoes. I get that some of your customers might be located abroad, but most TechCrunch writers are based on the West coast, as is most of their audience. Asking them to post (or read) a story which publishes at 4am ET is complete BS. PR flacks need to decide just how much they want that coveted TechCrunch coverage, and accommodate accordingly.
Your news is bullshit: Emerging tech companies and startups are competing for coverage in TechCrunch alongside many of the giants – Amazon, HP, MSFT, you know who they are. Take a moment to really gauge if your so-called news is actually news, and set expectations internally. If it’s a case study or customer win, it’s going to be hard to beat the ‘who the hell cares’ test. Also, TechCrunch covers breaking news. Unfortunately for most PR folks, that means our 2-week lead time and ‘embargoed’ news will have to compete. We’re the underdogs, but sometimes we prevail.
I could continue with the long-lasting ‘to call or not to call’ debate – but I’d probably get fired. Plus, I don’t want to give away all my secrets and lessons learned from the TechCrunch dinner. Good luck.
More often than not, when clients come to us from another PR firm they complain about 3 things:
a) Lack of results or way to measure success
b) Bad writing
c) Inability to understand and pitch their technology
Since this is my first official blog, I’m going to keep it short by focusing on the first topic, measuring PR success. If you like what you read, tell me, and I’ll share my thoughts on the topic of writing and pitching at a later date.
Before we begin, let me be clear. If you’ve hired an agency or have an in-house PR manager that doesn’t already use metrics to measure success, they should be fired. Given how much your company is spending on PR, you might also ponder the question of why you haven’t been fired by now. Good news is, it’s never too late to start.
Despite the very real differences between PR and other lead gen types of activities, they do have one thing common – mapping back to business goals. This is where I think it’s worth pointing out what a PR goal should and shouldn’t be. If you come to us wanting PR to drive 10,000 downloads of a new widget, then you’ve come to the wrong place. However, if you want PR to help raise awareness of your brand among small business owners with the hope they’ll download your widget once they visit your site, that’s more realistic.
Which leads to another popular misconception (rant warning). Getting an article in TechCrunch isn’t necessarily the Holy Grail. Sure, TechCrunch might make sense if you’re trying to secure funding or reach consumer audiences. But, for most of our clients (especially enterprise software ones), they’d much rather get a story in ZDNet. Hands down, the caliber and quality of reader is way more qualified and less transient than the TechCrunch audience. And, since we’re talking about measuring the success of PR, converting leads to sales far outweighs driving low quality traffic to your site.
Because I promised to keep this short, I’m going to stop ranting and offer up a few ways to measure the value of PR. This list is by no means complete but it’s enough to get you thinking.
As we touched on earlier, good PR usually maps back to business goals. For example, if you are trying to reach C-level tech buyers, ask your agency to specify which outlets they are targeting (CIO Magazine, SearchCIO, etc.) and map the metrics accordingly. This may be something like “Secure briefings with (3) tier-1 and (4) tier-2 outlets.” Make sure everyone is on the same page with how the tiers are aligned.
Despite how vague a buzzword like thought leadership can be, it is possible to assign a value to it. For example, let’s say you have a customer who talks to peers about how great your product is, but won’t talk to reporters or do a press release or case study. A Speaker Program can be a great, measureable category of thought leadership. Ask PR to come up with a short list of qualified conferences to submit for (SXSW, AdTech, Interop, whatever) and assign metrics. This could be “Research and track top-15 conferences. Draft and submit 3 abstracts.”
Recaps. Go back every month or quarter to see how well PR performed. In the case of briefings, is the number being reached? If not, why not? Are you, the client, falling short on promised deliverables (a customer, not making time for the briefing)? If so, did PR make recommendations to readjust and keep the coverage pipeline full? In the case of speaking, are abstracts getting consistently being declined and in need of a refresh? Take time to course correct.
By applying critical thinking, it becomes much easier to assess the value of what might otherwise be seen as elusive and intangible.